A brief guide to Oslo’s bookshops

As part of getting to know a new country and a new city, one of my favourite things to explore are the bookshops and in Oslo there are more than you can shake a stick at.  This is by no means a comprehensive guide to the city’s bookshops but is a small sample of those that so far, I have enjoyed exploring. This is likely a post that will have future follow ups as I get to know the city and its bookshops better.

To begin with in Oslo there are the various chain bookshops, ARK, Norli and Tanum. Each of these has multiple shops of different sizes across the city but a few are worth taking a look at. In particular the Norli on Universitetsgate, and the Tanum at Litteraturhuset are worth going into. ARK have a good shop on Karl Johan’s gate the main drag in Oslo city centre for shopping.

The Norli on Universitetsgate, not far from the palace and around the corner from both the National Gallery and National History Museum is a shop with a glass door that it would be easy to miss but once inside you will find a well laid out and spacious bookshop with two floors and lots of fascinating titles not only in Norwegian and Swedish but in English too. One of the curious things I noticed in the bookshops here is that as well as their being an English language novel section as is common in Prague say, in a sign of the strength of English language learning in Norway, English language books are scattered among the Norwegian language books in practically every subject matter.

Going to the Norli on Universitetsgate also has the advantage of getting you close to several more nearby bookshops. Two doors over from Norli there is a Fretex shop (Salvation Army). Downstairs there you will find an intriguing mix of books at reasonable prices and again English language books mixed among the Norwegian. A little further up the street past the Kaffebrenneriet on the street you will come to Tronsmo bookshop. 

The new premises of Tronsmo on Universitetets gate in Oslo city centre.

Tronsmo is a beautiful big bookshop, with a huge range of titles. Now on Universitetsgate, it was previously in a location just around the corner which is now a temporary gallery. The music section of the bookshop is especially strong as are the current affairs, politics, photography and art sections. There is also a strong children’s section. The walls of the shop are covered in photography and posters of vintage and more recent variety. Because of the big wide open layout the bookshop at first feels like it might be sparse but after a good ten minutes browsing you realise that the shelves are very full and they have many recently published English language books. It’s a fairly high brow bookshop as these things go, and the odd seat to take a bit more time over things would be welcome but its a bookshop that will require multiple visits.

Just before Tronsmo there is Norlis antikvariat which looks like a real specialist bookshop for those interested in rare books and collectibles. The windows contain rare books and maps among other things at fairly high prices. I’ve yet to work up the courage to enter, but look forward to popping in some day.

If you go back to the square on Karl Johan’s gate and make your way towards the palace, but then turn right away from it you’ll eventually find Litteraturhuset. As well as being offices for a variety of writing related organisations, an educational space, a writing space, and much mord besides, the ground floor boasts a café and a small but rich bookshop, run by Tanum. Here you will find a fantastic selection of essays and literary criticism as well as novels, poetry and current affairs and history.

The entrance to El Dorado bookshop in Oslo.

Elsewhere in the city, walking east away from Oslo sentralstasjon, along Storgata, you will find El Dorada bookshop, which has a strong selection of English language books but they push especially Penguin Classics. They have an overwhelming selection of literary journals which are worth browsing and the bookshop is aesthetically very pleasing to be in.

The sign in the window of Cappelens on Bernt Ankers gate.

Further along Storgata and turning onto Bernt Ankers gate you come to Cappelens Forslag. Cappelen is a well-known name in the world of Norwegian books. Cappelen Damm are one of the country’s largest publishing houses, but the Cappelens behind this small rare bookshop are not connected to the big name publisher. Opened in 2011 Cappelens Forslag is a small square place with lots of character and it specialises in rare English language books in the main. It is chiefly famous in Norway for its konversasjonsleksikon, a kind of subjective encyclopedia, the second volume of which appears later this year.


There is also a small cafe space at the back with black coffee and a range of Chinese teas imported via Bergen which are a real treat. Its an especially good bookshop in which to talk books with the knowledgeable and friendly staff.

The final bookshop for this post which I’ll mention is another small independent shop on Schous plass in Grunerløkke. Schous bokhandel, which only opened this year, is another bookshop in a square ground floor space with the books stacked neatly along the walls. It has plenty of chairs and the day I was in, the guy working there was just popping some Johnny Cash on the record players. They carried plenty of unusual English language titles along with everything else. Like Cappelen’s forslag, they also had interesting poetry titles in both English and Norwegian from a range of presses big and small.

The pickings in Oslo for bookshops are rich indeed and if you find yourself passing through you could do worse than find the time to pop into several of these bookshops in between admiring the rest of what Oslo has to offer.

Football in a Norwegian Key

It’s unseasonably hot for August at the moment (or at least for me!) and yesterday evening I spent the late sunshine at Heming sports arena, on the western fringes of Oslo. I was out there to watch Fotball Klubb Lyn play against Kjelsås 2.

I’m back where I was over a year ago when I first lived in Prague and had to find a team to call my own. The differences between Prague and Oslo are many but one of the intriguing differences is that for all the football clubs to be found in Norway’s capital, the big teams are from elsewhere: think FK Brann from Bergen, or Molde currently managed by Manchester United great Ole Gunnar Solkjær. Or Rosenborg for instance. Oslo’s biggest club, Vålerenga who share their home with the Norwegian national team at Ullevål stadion (recently the host of a Tottenham Hotspur Inter Milan friendly), are going through a dry spell. They haven’t won the top division since 2005 and currently sit tenth in the league. Not that I’m especially a glory hunter, but Vålerenga are certainly the obvious option in terms of picking a club for someone living within range of Oslo.

While looking up which clubs were in the city, I came across Lyn. Lyn is Norwegian for lightning, and that could certainly describe the kind of season they are currently having. Lyn are top of their division. They play in the second group of the Norwegian 3rd division (at 3rd division level there are a dizzying twelve seperate groups). En route to secure promotion to 2nd division football (in which there are four groups) in 2017, I decided to take a look at Lyn, who’s tagline is ‘Ekte fotball, Ekte fans’: Real football, real fans.


And they certainly do have real fans. At this quiet and otherwise unremarkable set of astroturf pitches and community gym – the club’s home is Bislett stadium but it was unavailable for this game – at the Gramåkken T-bane stop, a good show of around 200+ fans showed up to shout on their team in what was certainly an unusually one-sided affair. It was 100 NOK (about 10 euro) to watch and for another 50, I bought two issues of the Lyn magazine to peruse. Even at this small ground, in front of an exclusively Lyn crowd (it seemed), banners were unfurled and some in the crowd were in vociferous humour.


Lyn took the lead on 15 minutes and by half time were three goals to the good. The second half was fairly dull in all truth, until towards the end when there two late red cards (one for each team) and an unfortunate own goal from the Lyn captain, meaning that all four goals came from a Lyn boot.

Once the final whistle blew, I made my way back to Oslo S before getting the Gjøvikbanen home to Harestua. It was a strange game of football – for one thing the sun lingered for almost three quarters of the game and was incredibly hot, it can’t have been easy to play in. On top of that, with Lyn leading so strongly from halftime, you felt Kjelsås were very much playing the damage limitation game. Nonetheless it was enjoyable if understated affair. It not really being Lyn’s home, and the awkward kick off time on a  Tuesday night may have compounded the occasionally muted atmosphere that every so often exploded into a roar, may also have had some bearing on things. But they look a good team, playing with confidence, and the fans seem good. I’ll certainly take another look at Lyn.

New Look, New Name

Regular visitors to the blog might have noticed a few changes. I’ve changed the theme of Sidelines in order to tidy up and make the blog a bit easier to navigate.

The main menu along the top now contains links out to several of my publications and my recent work for Pog Mo Goal. In time I hope to add some more external links to the top menu but this is enough for now.

Along the sidebar I’ve added my Twitter feed and a link to my book’s Facebook page.

Quite some time ago I changed the name of this blog to Sidelines.  The name was chosen to reflect my interest in sport : standing on the sidelines is part of the joy of being a spectator – it is a great vantage point from which to see the action unfold. You are almost a part of it you are so close to it.

It is also an accurate reflection of the feeling one sometimes has a historian – that of standing on the sidelines watching the action unfold, watching, remembering events, and recording them. My interest in history is those who were in some way on the sidelines of their own times too. Not the great and the good, the wealthy and powerful,  but ordinary people caught up in their own extraordinary times.

A sideline is also something done “on the side”, in addition to what you normally do. I take my blog, and blogging, seriously but it is a sideline. It allows me a space to explore ideas for the first time in a raw, unprocessed way. It also frees me from constraints to write about whatever I want.

So as well as giving the blog a new look,  I have also changed the domain of the blog to thesidelinesofhistory.wordpress.com.

Whether you are new or a returning reader I hope you find the sidelines of history as fascinating a place as I do.

Call For Papers: The Precariat & The Professor

This is an important project and the more that is done to highlight and tackle this growing issue the better for early career researchers, adjuncts and those currently in the process of getting their PhDs and entering academia. It’s only through exploring our experiences and developing means to resist that we can begin to change the deplorable situations in our universities. While this might seem like it disproportionately affects those in the arts and humanities, all sectors of higher education institutions will be the poorer if the casualisation of academic work continues the way it has been.

The Precariat & The Professor

In the past 25 years, higher education has seen some major transformations. The percentage of college students who are Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and Native American has increased steadily while the percentage of white students declines. Unfortunately, increased enrollment and newfound visibility does not necessarily translate into a seat at the table. University administration and faculty do not reflect the demographic shifts seen in student populations. In 2013, 84 percent of full-time professors were white, and 53% white male. At the same time, tuitions continue to rise, but rarely do those funds trickle down to the classroom. More money is being funneled into administrative positions and away from tenure-line hires. Most teaching positions are now part-time and low-paid adjunct positions. According to a 2012 report from the American Association of University Professors, contingent faculty make up over 75% of all instructional staffing. In 1975 only 25% were in these positions.

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Soccer in Munster

A new review of my book Soccer In Munster: A Social History, 1877-1937 whuch will appear soon in the Labour History Review. Here it is on the reviewer’s blog.

Before opening the pages of this new study of sporting activity in Ireland’s southernmost province, the reader is drawn into its world. The cover image, perfectly chosen, places you amidst the crowd…

Source: Soccer in Munster

Why Ireland Needs its Arts Graduates

A new book is to be published in Britain soon which is called The Myth of Meritocracy. It examines the reasons why it is that, despite the long-standing lipservice paid to the idea of meritocracy in Britain (and plenty of other places too), by and large the children of working-class parents end up in working-class jobs still. As the blurb on the publisher’s website has it “In a grossly unequal society, the privileges of the parents unfailingly become the privileges of the children.”

This is no situation unique to Britain, although in some ways the problems of the meritocracy – and its supposed “fairness” – have at least best been unpicked. Following the recent death of Barnsley-born author Barry Hines, a Guardian article written by Paul Mason noted that “educational reforms alone will barely scratch the surface. We have to find a form of economics that – without nostalgia or racism – allows the working population to define, once again, its own values, its own aspirations, its own story.” In Ireland, we are still in thrall to the belief that the Leaving Certificate and the CAO system means that Irish education is a true meritocracy. That, by blindly operating on the basis of your results, anyone is capable of a good Leaving Certificate, something which in the eyes of many is still the key to success in Ireland. But of course, long before the student sits in the exam hall in summer for paper one of the English test in the Leaving Certificate, all kinds of factors will have impacted their ability to succeed in this supposed meritocracy.

These things came to mind as I read an article today from the Irish Times, headlined “Computer science graduates in demand, but arts earn least.” The article tells us nothing that most in Ireland don’t already know. The article is based largely on the findings of a new report from Ireland’s Higher Education Authority, entitled WHAT DO GRADUATES DO? The Class of 2014, An Analysis of the First Destination of University and College of Education GraduatesAmong other things the report highlights the poor earning of arts graduates in their first job, often around €13,000 – a paltry sum when compared to their peers in subjects like computer science or finance. (What Do Graduates Do?, 44). Another interesting fact which came back from the report, based on responses from 18, 500 (69%) of people who graduated in the 2014 cohort of under- and post-graduate students in Irish third level institutions was this: some 24% of Art and Humanities students felt that their degree  was irrelevant/most irrelevant to their employment. (What Do Graduates Do?, 35).

The majority of arts and humanities graduates (19.6%) not working in education in Ireland in 2014 were working in Distribution. Outside of the Republic, most of them work in non-market services (44.4%). Of these, fully one quarter (25%) work in the category “Other Education, including language schools”. (What Do Graduates Do?, 64– 65)

The report is largely a positive one from the point of view of the HEA, since the overall numbers of graduates remaining on in Ireland is on the up, even though this is only marginal. But what does this report say to us more broadly about the place of the arts and humanities in Ireland?

I read that report and see one glaring thing: the job opportunities for Irish Arts graduates are financially unsustainable. But this does not mean that those with Arts degrees should be feel ashamed or embarrassed by their choice. Rather, it is time for Irish society, and our state, to value Arts students. And I don’t just mean financially, although this is important. Consider for instance the amount of funding awarded to the Irish Arts Council from 2007-2016:

2007: €83m
2008: €81.6m
2009: €73.4m
2010: €68.7m
2011: €65.2m
2012: €63.2m
2013: €59.9m
2014: €56.7m
2015: €56.9m
2016: €59.1m (Source: Journal of MusicOctober 2015)

While I am not going to focus overly on the ins and outs of Arts Council funding – who gets it and who doesn’t – it strikes me that in a country where so many of our graduates are Arts graduates, where our government and many more are willing to wheel out our world-famous artists as proof of the creativity of the Irish people, the amount of funding given to the arts is in reality quite small. And the paltry pay our Arts graduates receive in their first employment is indicative not just of a sense that an education in the arts isn’t valuable, isn’t lucrative, but isn’t even *valued*. By that I mean that arts graduates, despite often being sold what seems like a sop about transferable skills (shudder), are rarely considered to be ideal for the business environment.

Their ability to critically analyse, think laterally, write well, communicate clearly, are too often considered less valuable than they should be by those in the private sector. The image of the lazy, unimaginative and ultimately unmotivated Arts graduate persists in Ireland. But it’s simply untrue, and there is a small cottage industry of online articles which provide plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. That view of the Arts graduate is a hangover of the late 1990s in Ireland, and it is time to move beyond it.

But the issue is bigger than the overemphasis in many job markets on having the “right” qualification before you can get in the door. Or on making sure we find a place in the dominant fields of computer tech and finance in Ireland for our adaptable and intelligent Arts graduates. The truth is that the problems for Arts graduates is that there is an expectation in many fields not just to work for free on a cycle of never-ending internships, for the inedible – and unedifying – promise of exposure, but to be happy with your lot. They are supposed to be delighted to be earning anything at all, and to have diminished expectations for what their lives can be materially, on the basis of their desire to study something other than the kind of subject that’ll get you a “good job.”

As for working-class Irish kids who might have an interest in the Arts, the mountain is even more treacherous. As grants and aid are cut back, and will likely continue to be, the brief flowering of the Irish version of the scholarship boy/girl of the 1960s in Ireland is already largely ended. While people will sing the praises of the writing of the likes of Sean O’Casey during the decade of centenaries, few will hear his message that a world of working-class Irish life deserves better expression than the hoary old class snobbery of tv shows like Damo and Ivor. (see Michael Pierce’s chapter in David Convery’s Locked Out: A Century of Irish Working-Class life for more on this)

As another HEA report, published at the beginning of 2016, the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019has it: “Participation of those from the semi-skilled and unskilled socio-economic groups is at 26%, while there is practically
full participation by those from the higher professional socio-economic group.” Add to this the difficulties that come with disabilities and other factors that disproportionately those already less well-off in Ireland, and the increased number of Special Needs Assistants is to be welcomed, with the number standing at 7,020 nationwide, according to a recent report in TheJournal.ie. Yet, even still it is difficult to imagine selling the real values of an Arts degree to a young student from a working-class area of Ireland when the first money being earned by those graduating is in the region of €13,000. More pay is important, but so too is more respect for the values that the Arts and Humanities teaches students.

In my view, it is time to start valuing our Arts graduates. Taking a chance on an Arts graduate in a job where their degree doesn’t match exactly with the job description might be a worthwhile risk. Arts graduates deserve to earn decent wages, and they deserve to be treated as valuable and valued members of our society.

Divočák drinks Permon 13° Permon Winter Ale

My newest piece for BeerBoar is up now. Go check it out, along with some pretty pictures of Prague in snow

Beer Boar

Christmas is well and truly over. Last week, the 6th of January in Ireland was Nollaig na mBan (Women’s little Christmas). In the Christian calendar it marks the feast day of the epiphany. In the Orthodox Christian calendar, this is the day Christmas itself is celebrated. Here in Prague, the feast of the epiphany is marked by students dressing up as the three wise men and collecting money for charity.

Last Monday, it began snowing heavily here in the city. While I can’t be sure that the snow was general all over… Czech Republic, or that it was falling upon all the living and the dead, it was certainly falling in heaps around me. I went out, camera at the ready to snap it. Just as well, since tonight, the snow has turned in most places to a fine slush. While I was out last Tuesday evening photographing…

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Beerboar welcomes Divočák

My first post over on Beer Boar, check it out!

Beer Boar

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Divočák. As he roams around Prague he will regularly add to this site with field reports of various kind. Divočák is a social animal with more stories than he knows what to do with them. If you happen to see him wandering around pull up a stool and buy him a drink. – Beer Boar

The Divočák goes roaming

According to authorities no less than both the New York Times and the Guardian, I live next door to Hipster-central in Prague: Krymská. Krymská has just got a new pub, Bad Flash Bar, which carries an impressive twelve taps, each with a different microbrew. On top of this, the bar has 9 fridges full of bottled or canned import and local microbrew beers. An impressive selection and an impressive bar. I’ll take the time to write a full report in the New Year…

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Writing Elsewhere

As well as updating this blog, in recent times, I have also been writing a regular diary of watching Bohemian Praha 1905 for Irish football website and print magazine, Póg Mo GoalHere in one handy place are all of the posts I’ve written for them so far:

Dimples and Kangaroos

Coasting Along: Bohemian Like You

Bohemian Ballerinas?

Square Ball: This is Sparta

The Kings of Vršovice

The Mikuláš Miracle
As well as writing for Póg Mo Goal, I am about to start contributing to Beer Boar, an Irish-based craft beer blog on my drinking adventures in Prague. I’ll be writing those under the moniker of Divočák (Wild Boar). So, do keep an eye here on Sidelines for updates on both of these!

Christmas Post: The Wren Boy Tradition in Ireland

Christmas is a wonderful time of year for anyone with an interest in tradition and its invention, its upkeep, and its transformation. There are wonderful variations in food, music, drink and other aspects of celebrating the darkest period of the year before the lead-in to spring. British Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has just published a Christmas poem: The Wren-Boys, which draws on an old tradition of hunting wrens on the day after Christmas: St.Stephen’s Day in Ireland and Boxing Day in Britain.

This news delighted me, as I had done some work during the week on the Wren Boys and the song sung on St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland with some of my TEFL students during the week.

The tradition of the wren is still carried on in some parts of Ireland although these days it seems it is more organised performance than it is pure tradition, and likely, this has been the case since probably the middle of the twentieth century.

In the tradition groups of boys hunt and kill wren, placing it atop a poll and then go seeking money for the burial of the wren and for themselves. In Duffy’s poem the origins of why this is done is alluded to:

And here’s the craic: that the little bird
had betrayed a saint with its song,
or stolen a ride on an eagle’s back
to fly highest; traitor and cheat.

Boys or men dress in motley, with blackened faces, or in straw costumes covering body and head would dance and sing, beg money, food or drink for their success in avenging the bird’s supposed betrayal. An old tradition, it was not without its critics. In Kerry, I found an instance of one local priest who wished to suppress the practice in the 19th century. While in early twentieth century, some found the killing of the bird a cruelty:

SkibEagle 1907
From the Skibbereen Eagle, December 1907.


Perhaps one of the best aspects of the tradition is that verses sung as the Wren Boys make their way varies from place to place and over time. Some idea of the words sung in South Kilkenny come to us from this short extract in the 1930s in the Munster Express:

One group who made the tradition famous, The Clancy Brothers, came from Carrick-On-Suir, a place where the tradition of the wren is still popular and was taken in deadly serious earnest in the 1930s. Consider this court case for example:


The tradition has moved from the streets and country lanes and has been recorded in several versions since the emergence of the Irish folk revival in the 1960s. Here’s a link to a performance by the Clancy’s of the song, with a short introduction from them on the tradition. Here’s a different version taken from The Chieftains’ album The Bells of Dublin. And, just today, as Micheál Ó’Muirchearthaigh was speaking with Miriam O’Callaghan on her radio show, he made mention of the tradition in his reminscences of Dingle Christmases in his childhood. You can listen to that here. The tradition of the wren – or at least the memory of it – unlike the poor bird itself come Stephens’ Day, doesn’t appear to be in mortal danger.

Hope you have a Merry Christmas!